Find out why everyone tried to drown the diva in this hilarious dark comedy gem.

It feels like it’s been some time since we’ve been treated to a Will Ferrell performance. That all changes this Friday when the actor’s latest vehicle, The House, hits movie screens. Co-starring Amy Poehler, the comedy features the two comedy pros as a married couple who decide to turn their home into a casino in order to help pay for their daughter’s college tuition.

Whether The House will win big this weekend or not, one can surely count on Ferrell to give the character he’s playing his usual all while providing audiences with that unmistakable energy and comic timing that the actor has been providing for decades now. The genius of Ferrell and the secret to his staying power is his total commitment and devotion to every character he’s playing that allows him to steal the spotlight from whichever actor he’s on screen with. Case in point: the actor’s slightly demented undertaker in the dark comedy Drowning Mona.

Released in 2000, Drowning Mona takes place in 1985 in the small town of Verplank, NY where the community’s most reviled citizen, Mona Dearly (Bette Midler), has just driven her car off a cliff and into the river, promptly dying. When it’s discovered that Mona’s brakes were tampered with, it’s up to Police Chief Wyatt Rash (Danny DeVito) to find out who had a motive for getting rid of Verplank’s most hated resident. The problem is that everyone seems to have wanted Mona gone, from Rash’s daughter Ellen (Neve Campbell), to her fiance Bobby (Casey Affleck), to Mona’s husband Phil (William Fichtner), to greasy spoon waitress Rona (Jamie Lee Curtis), making this one of the toughest cases of Rash’s career.

Drowning Mona is pure dark comedy. What other category does a movie belong to when it kills off its title character in the first reel and then lets its audiences watch those who knew her celebrate her demise? The movie adds to the darkness by giving plenty of reasons why Mona deserved to be loathed, including attacking Bobby’s car with a golf club, hitting Phil on the side of the head with a frying pan, and literally chopping Jeff’s hand off with a cleaver for taking simply taking her beer. It’s all wonderfully exaggerated in true dark comedy fashion. Adding to this are the wide assortment of side characters populating the film. The most hilarious of these is hands down Cubby (Ferrell), a mortician who conducts porn photoshoots in the same building he holds funerals, greeting all who enter by sneaking up behind them as he creepily says, “Welcome friends.” Meanwhile, quirks such as the fact that the ‘80s-set film has everyone driving Yugos (as a result of the town being chosen to test out the line of vehicles) provides some fun-filled randomness.

A comedy as dark as Drowning Mona needs side-splitting dialogue to make it tick. Thankfully Peter Steinfeld’s script has plenty of that. What’s even better is that the script spreads the laughs evenly among its characters, making everyone on screen hilarious to watch. When Phil suggests to his mistress Rona that Mona’s dying is good luck, she shuts him down by stating, “Good luck doesn’t happen to people like us. Good luck happens to Madonna.” When Rash asks Bobby what he thought of Mona, the good-natured Bobby gently answers, “She was probably the worst person I ever met in my entire life.” “You know some people have a lot of sides to them,” responds Rash. “Well, she only showed me the one,” says Bobby with the utmost seriousness. Later on during Mona’s poorly attended wake at Cubby’s funeral home, Phil explains the lack of attendees by saying, “No one’s gonna come…not with the big game on tonight,” causing Mona’s son Jeff (Marcus Thomas) to suddenly remember and cry out, “Christ, I’ve got money on that game!” “Yeah, you and everyone’s mother! Ha ha ha,” adds Cubby.

It helps when a dark comedy casts actors who can appreciate the brand of humor they are being asked to play. Director Nick Gomez has certainly done this as each actor jumps straight into the script’s mixture of the goofy and macabre while embracing the completely pathetic, yet lovable aspects of his or her character. DeVito and Midler naturally excel at their characters through flawless comedic timing, as does Curtis, making her small-town waitress feel like a real person trapped in a larger-than-life situation. Meanwhile, as the two non-comedic pros in the cast, Affleck and Campbell show a knack for the genre with the former in particular displaying great moments of deadpan. It’s Ferrell, however, who steals all his scenes as Cubby, garnering laughs through just a pair of wide eyes and the most maniacal of laughs.

To say Drowning Mona wasn’t well-received is being kind. The film was downright trashed by critics and all but ignored by audiences on opening weekend, where it was beat by the likes of My Dog Skip and The Next Best Thing. Yes, audiences chose Frankie Muniz playing with a cute dog and Madonna getting impregnated by Rupert Everett over watching Midler hilariously fall to her death. In the end, the film, which cost nearly 40 million to produce, failed to make back even half its budget.

The movie does provide a mystery type of sub-plot with regards to who killed its titular character. However, whodunnit and why comes a far second to the dark hilarity and quirkiness that flows throughout Drowning Mona. It isn’t much of a surprise to see why a movie such as this didn’t connect with many who saw it. Audiences have continuously proven to be touch and go with the majority of dark comedies, especially ones dealing with death, which still proves to be one of the hardest subjects to ask everyday folks to laugh at. Yet for those who do manage to see that specific brand of comedy, not only recognize it, but fully embrace it with a gusto that makes movies like Drowning Mona pure laughter-filled gold.

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